Metals News
Chile Celebrates World's Longest Mine Rescue as Last Man Freed
industry news
Oct 15,2010

Oct 15 (Bloomberg) -- Foreman Luis Urzua emerged from the San Jose copper mine at 8:55 p.m. New York time yesterday, the last member of the group hoisted to the surface in a four-meter long capsule. Photographer: Roberto Candia/AP

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, right, looks on as miner Florencio Avalos embraces his wife Monica after being rescued from the collapsed San Jose copper mine, near Copiapo, Chile.

The first of 33 men rescued from an underground mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert were released from hospital after recovering from their two-month ordeal.

"We did it tough,” Edison Pena said as he pushed past dozens of reporters to enter his family home in the city of Copiapo, images transmitted by state television channel TVN showed. "I hope this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”

Most of the other men probably will be released from Copiapo Hospital tomorrow, Jorge Montes, the hospital’s deputy director, said in televised remarks. Some are recovering from infections and minor surgery and one from pneumonia, he said. President Sebastian Pinera visited them today.

Foreman Luis Urzua was pulled from the mine at 8:55 p.m. New York time yesterday, the final member of the group hoisted to the surface in a four-meter long capsule. His release capped the world’s longest mine rescue and sparked celebrations throughout the country. Rescuers sang the national anthem as the miners’ relatives and friends sprayed champagne and confetti.

"You’re not the same after this and neither are we,” Pinera told Urzua in televised remarks. "We will never forget this.”
Urzua, 54, who doled out rations of tuna and water crackers during the 17 days the miners spent trapped before being discovered alive on Aug. 22, thanked rescuers one by one. "Thank you for everything you’ve done for us,” he told First Lady Cecilia Morel after hugging her.

Billion Viewers

More than 1 billion people watched the culmination of the two-month rescue live on television networks around the world, state television channel TVN reported. The 70-day rescue beat a previous record set during a 25-day rescue of three coal workers from a flooded mine in Guizhou, China, in 2009.

Firehouse sirens throughout Chile sounded to celebrate the rescue of the 33rd miner. In the city of Copiapo, where most of the rescued miners live, thousands of people cheered, danced and wept in celebration, television images showed. People screamed from their Santiago apartments: "Long live Chile!”

"It’s like when the first man stepped on the moon,” said Darinka Arce, a family friend of 19-year-old rescued miner Jimmy Sanchez. "Being part of this has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

Mission Accomplished

After Urzua’s release, rescue workers who were lowered into the hole to help prepare miners for their ascent to the surface held up a handwritten sign that read, "Mission Accomplished, Chile.”

The "Phoenix” capsule painted in the red, white and blue colors of Chile’s flag worked for more than 22 hours hoisting the men to the surface through a 26-inch wide rescue hole.

Brandon Fisher, chief executive officer of Center Rock Inc., which supplied drill bits to make the rescue shaft, said he felt relief and pride when the last person reached the surface yesterday.

"It was by far, the single most important hole we have ever drilled, not to mention the most technically challenging shaft that we have ever been involved in,” Fisher said today in an e-mail response to questions. "Through the 33 days of drilling, through the challenges, stressful moments, overwhelming emotions, it was all worth it!”

The rescue cost Chile’s government and Codelco, the state- owned copper producer running the rescue, as much as $20 million, Pinera said in an interview with TVN. BHP Billiton Ltd. and other mining companies, as well as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, assisted in the rescue.


"It’s remarkable,” said J. Davitt McAteer, who was appointed to investigate the causes of a blast at Massey Energy Co.’s Performance Coal operation in Montcoal, West Virginia, that killed 29 people in April. "They’ve done good and been lucky too.”

The first miner, Florencio Avalos, emerged from the mine at 11:12 p.m. New York time Oct. 12 after being trapped for 69 days in a tunnel more than 600 meters (1,970 feet) underground.

Carlos Mamani, the one Bolivian in the group, is in good health, his sister Nelia Mamani, 33, said today after visiting him in the hospital.

"We don’t know yet if he will stay in Chile or go back to Bolivia,” she said. "It’s not the right moment to talk about what happened below yet. I think it was difficult.”

The San Jose copper and gold mine is owned by Cia. Minera San Esteban Primera SA. Chile’s government will help San Esteban employees find work elsewhere if they need it, Labor Minister Camila Merino said in a statement on the government website.

"This won’t remain unpunished,” Pinera said in televised remarks. "Those who are responsible must assume their responsibility.”

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